The Art of Underwater Rugby

Things are about to get pretty hardcore. Photo: Copyright VDST.

As I prepared the Diver Spotlight on Dietmar Fuchs last week, I developed a greater interest in all things pertaining to the German underwater sport diving federation, the VDST. One of the activities kids take part in resonated with me. Rugby is a sport I've always enjoyed playing on land, so I wasn't going to pass up the chance to speak with an authority on it who also played it underwater.

Dietmar was kind enough to put me in touch with Wolfgang Tress, a Berlin-based book seller who specializes in horror and science fiction as well as being a veteran and underwater rugby referee.

While completing his CMAS training, Wolfgang, or "Wolf," as he writes his letters, started playing underwater rugby over 10 years ago. He claimed that after his teacher, a player, piqued his interest, it became into a "addiction and a passion." It seemed appropriate to have him explain the underwater rugby regulations given that he has built up a career as a freelancer in the sports and scientific domains over the years.

He says that in the game “two teams of 12 players discernible by their blue- or white-colored waterpolo caps and trunks with numbers compete in two fifteen-minute rounds. Each player is expected to take a twenty-second split under the water while their partner grabs a breath. Then they switch. Defenders, attackers, and goalkeepers need to breathe, as we all do. Each team has six players in the water and six out at any given time. Two defenders, two goalkeepers, and two attackers are the typical in-game line up of each team.”

It all begins in the middle. Photo: Copyright VDST.

The teams compete by trying to get their ball into a small steel net on the other team's side while using a saltwater-filled ball. Although the sport involves full contact, no holds are permitted. In contrast to underwater rugby, which I will now refer to, keeping someone down would involve a significant risk.

There are three referees that oversee enforcement. Two referees stay submerged with scuba gear and audible signaling devices, while a third official watches the action from the surface in the manner of a lifeguard. The guidelines are very stringent. Only the player who has the ball in their possession may attack other players. Depending on the type of contact, any further aggressive action can result in a penalty and could land you in the dry zone for two to five minutes. Wolf commands, "No punching, scratching, hitting, or holding equipment."

It's a challenging, competitive sport with a high edge, as is to be anticipated. Before starting a 30-minute match, which is both physically and psychologically demanding, divers are required to thoroughly prepare each time. Divers on both teams must have a strong understanding of their teammates to win a match. Visibility under the water isn't always the best with twelve individuals competing at full strength at any given time.

“Teams win as teams, not with solo stars,” says Wolf.

Super play action UW-Rugby! Photo: Copyright VDST.

He can talk from experience since he is dating a champion. He points out that his girlfriend, a goalie for the German national team at the moment, helped her side defeat fourteen other countries to win the current global championship in the sport. Norway is currently the undisputed king of the men. Norway, Germany, Columbia, Denmark, and Turkey are the leading countries for the sport in general.

Wolf claims that the sport's popularity is skyrocketing right now. The audiences for championships are always expanding, as are those for livestreams and commentary. The Champions Cup, which will include 24 teams from 14 different countries in a marathon of 43 matches, will take place in Berlin this fall.

Comment below and we'll be pleased to explain more about the VDST or underwater rugby if you have any questions.

Go diving rugby.


Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor

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